Saturday, July 20, 2013

Prison in Dubai for Extramarital Sex: Human Rights Violation, or Something Else?

Abraham Lincoln's honest and direct communication was key to his success as president.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a reputation as one of the more modern countries in the Arab world, and Dubai is known as one of the most beautiful cities in the Middle East. But recently, a Norweigan woman who reported being raped in Dubai was sentenced to 16 months in prison, according to a report by Among the charges brought against her: having sex outside of marriage. The Norwegian foreign minister has said the conviction of the woman, Marte Deborah Dalelv, is "contrary to fundamental human rights" and could hurt Norway's relationship with the UAE. The story goes on to cite other examples of the UAE's human rights record, including three other foreign women, who reported being raped there and were punished with fines or jail time. All of this got me thinking: why do we call them "human rights violations"?
Obviously, "human rights" are a convenient way to categorize any number of acts that we consider immoral and inhumane. They are a euphemism that makes acts like imprisoning rape victims seem like a legal and political issue. But at a certain point, I think they do a disservice. A little specificity can go a long way in communicating your values. Norwegian officials could put it this way: "This is an atrocity that threatens the safety of all women in Dubai. We cannot sit idly while foreign women report being raped and are then jailed for extramarital sex. If the charges against Marte Deborah Dalelv are not dropped immediately, our relationship will soon end."

From a diplomatic perspective, this might be a little too aggressive for Norway's taste. But from a communications perspective, sometimes you just have to be a little direct.

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